Turkish court rules to keep philanthropist Osman Kavala in jail

A Turkish court ruled to keep philanthropist and businessman Osman Kavala behind bars in a decision that could affect the country's membership of the Council of Europe.

The court in Istanbul set the next hearing in the trial of Kavala, accused of conspiring to topple the government in the Gezi Park protest of 2013, and 16 other defendants for March 21, the Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA), which attended the proceedings, said on Twitter. It was the fifth hearing in the case.

The presiding judge ruled that legal proceedings against another 35 people, including members of Carsi, a supporters’ group for Istanbul soccer club Besiktas, would be separated from the Gezi Park trial, the MLSA said. The trials were combined last year.

Kavala was arrested in November 2017 on charges of espionage and plotting to overthrow the government through the 2013 Gezi Park protest. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled for the Anadolu Kültür NGO founder’s immediate release, saying his arrest was politically motivated. The Council of Europe has said Turkey must respect the ECHR ruling or face possible expulsion.

Members of numerous diplomatic missions in Turkey and human rights groups attended Monday’s hearing.

“The legal indictment proves that sometimes life can be more fictional than cinema. I demand to be acquitted of the charges,” said Çiğdem Mater, a film producer and a co-defendant of Kavala who is accused of making a movie about the protests, which turned into nationwide demonstrations against Erdogan’s government.

“I did not made a film on Gezi,” she said, according to the MLSA. “And even if I did, the courtrooms are not the place to discuss movies. The movies should be discussed in cinemas.” Mater was arrested in November 2018 along with 12 other civil society figures in relation to the protests.

The Council of Europe (CoE) has launched a disciplinary procedure against Turkey over its refusal to implement the ECHR ruling. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said Turkey will not comply with the court’s decision.

On Friday, the Society of Friends and Supporters of the Tonhalle awarded the Tonhalle Human Rights Prize for 2022 to Kavala.  

“The Osman Kavala case is a shocking example of massive political interference in the administration of justice,” said orchestral conductor and artist Adam Fischer when awarding the prize to Kavala in absentia.

The MLSA provides legal support to people who are on trial for their professional activities, especially journalists.

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